Baseball Falcons Fly Into Round Three - TribPapers

Baseball Falcons Fly Into Round Three

West Falcon seniors Hank DeWitt (24) and Jackson Duchesne (5) leap for joy after advancing to round three of baseball playoffs. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Mills RiverWest Henderson notched two impressive baseball playoff wins last week, with remarkable pitching and defense and very timely hitting.

The fourth-seeded Falcons (21-3) defeated Asheboro 4-1 on May 10, then stalled sluggers of Fred. T. Foard (17-7) in a 2-0 shutout two days later in 3A action.

West hosted fifth seed North Lincoln (19-5) Tuesday and, if victorious, will either play at top seed South Rowan or host East Rowan.

North Henderson was edged 3-2 by Carson, also in a 3A opener, to conclude a fine 16-9 campaign. Last spring North Knights upset the top seed, Crest. Hendersonville and Polk lost 2A baseball openers.

Lady Falcons (18-4) were 9-3 in the Mountain Seven, good for second place behind Smoky Mountain (13-9; 11-1) in softball. They won their last five regular-season contests. West fell in round one, by 9-5 to Carson on May 10.

West Athletic Director Justin Heatherly moved the game up a day, avoiding forecasted rain. There were two bonuses: First, it enabled flamethrower Truitt Manuel, who pitched last Thursday, to take the mound again this recent Tuesday by having his usual four days (or more) rest. Secondly, the Falcons also avoided playing under the weird fodder that a Friday the 13th ushers in.

Nicky Stanko (1) scores the first run, which held up as West’s winning run in the 2-0 victory in round two. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Nicky Stanko (1) scores the first run, which held up as West’s winning run in the 2-0 victory in round two. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Falcon Hurlers

Lanky West senior Jordan Whitaker pitched a four-hit complete game in the baseball playoff opener. He struck out six Comets, and walked three. “Jordan finds the (strike) zone” consistently, his catcher Alex Anderson said. He said he had “no doubt” Whitaker would preserve the win — even when the Comets advanced runners to second and third bases and brought the tying run to the plate.

Pitcher Whitaker said he kept calm by ignoring the runners since the tying runner at-bat mattered most. “I went after the hitter.” He induced a weak grounder for the final out.

“Jordan settled in,” Falcon head coach Jackie Corn said. “He went right after them,” once staked to a healthy lead. Corn praised Whitaker’s consistency and control. His pitch limit is 105, and he reached it when facing the final batter.

Whitaker said his best pitchers are his fastball and slider. Seth Grant, a 2008 West grad, tutored Whitaker and Truitt Manuel in pitching. Grant was drafted by the Marlins in 2012, out of Appalachian State. Grant said Whitaker is confident, stays in “good rhythm” and ahead in counts, and that “the ball jumps out of his hand.”

‘Tru-Bear’ Roars

In round two, sophomore sensation Truitt Manuel mowed down 11 Foard Tigers in a one-hitter. He walked four — two in the second inning, when he struck out the side. None of those five batters put the ball into play. “I got ahead in the counts,” Manuel said.

Manuel threw to all but the final batter. He had to leave the mound per the state 105-pitch limit. He had 95 pitches entering the inning, and struck out the first two batters.

Senior lefty Jackson Duchesne relieved. He took a “few deep breaths,” to relax and “trust my stuff” (velocity).

A groundout to second baseman Solomon Jenks ended it. Jenks threw out all three batters in the final inning two days earlier. He thrives on “pressure on us, to get that last out.”

West senior second baseman Solomon Jenks throws out a runner in the final inning of the playoff opener. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
West senior second baseman Solomon Jenks throws out a runner in the final inning of the playoff opener. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Opportunistic Hits

Thursday’s game was a scoreless duel, until West struck for the only runs in the bottom of the sixth inning. Nicky Stanko and Anderson led off with singles. Stanko roared home from third on a fielder’s choice — senior Jackson Duchesne’s groundout to shortstop. Stanko said afterward, “we really needed that run!”

In hustling out his ground ball, batter Truitt Manuel prompted a throwing error. The Tiger pitcher hurried his pickup and threw to first base as Manuel charged toward the bag. Devrey Hernandez, pinch running for Anderson, scored from second base.

Manuel said as a runner he “sprint out of the box — to put pressure on them. So we might score an insurance run. He said “we compete hard” to manufacture runs. Anderson said “I have faith in my teammates” to come through in the clutch like that. He said once West scored, there was a sudden “mood swing — to elation.”

Slick fielding shortstop Jackson Lyda is the left-handed lead off batter. He doubled deep to left field against a hard-throwing Tiger lefty starter, and later flied out deep. He said as a lefty batter, he can “pick up” a lefty’s pitch extra soon helping him time his contact.

‘Small Ball’ Adds Up

In the playoff opener, West made its seven hits count. WHHS scored the first run in the third. Jenks lined a double to center. Anderson doubled him in.

Anderson said “when we’re hitting the ball collectively, we shine the most” with big rallies. He said “it killed them emotionally” when the Falcons put the game away with three “small ball” runs in the fourth inning.

Big first baseman Jake Lindsey fanned, but reached first on a passed ball. On the bunt single of Lukas “Corn Dog” Corn, a throwing error enabled Lindsey to score from second and Corn to reach second base. Whitaker’s sacrificed bunt advanced Corn to third. Jenks was hit by a pitch, to load the bases. Runners stayed put on a fly out.

Next, Jenks got caught in a pickle. But that worked like a double steal, enabling lead runner Corn to score from third. Anderson singled in Corn for the final Falcon run.

Anderson said he gets extra pumped up when cheered on by teammates. Senior Trevor Miller is the loudest Falcon rooter from the dugout, throughout games. He tries to “keep ‘em hyped up.” Jake Lindsey said these days, the Falcons are “more exited. We’re playing 100 percent better.”

His father Anthony Lindsey is a West assistant coach. He was a Falcon left-handed pitcher on the 1992 state championship squad. He pointed out that the Falcon team also beat Foard in round two, and hopes it is an omen for another state title.

Duchesne said to win a state title is “everything we’ve worked years for.”

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